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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: The Sinking of The Stonewall

Library of Congress

It seems like almost yesterday that the steamboat the "The Stonewall" burned and sank just south of Neely's Landing, Missouri. It was October 27, 1869 and the sidewheeler "The Stonewall" was travelling south on the Mississippi with tons of cargo -- about 300 passengers, 200 head of livestock -- bound for Cape Girardeau, Memphis and New Orleans.

A candle or lantern must have overturned on to some of the hay stored in the lower deck, a fire erupted, which fanned by the cool October breeze, spread rapidly to the wooden structure of the ship. Alerted by the cry of "Fire" the pilot desperately sought to navigate the steamer toward the Illinois shore. But the river was low and the big vessel crunched into a submerged sandbar just about 100 yards from the bank.

To save themselves from burning, passengers and crew were forced to leap overboard into the cold waters of the Mississippi. Some were able to swim ashore, a few were saved by residents of Illinois who launched small boats and pulled people out of the water. But unfortunately, 209 people did not make it to safety and drowned in the river.

It was one of the worst disasters to occur on our inland waterways. Survivors and residents of Illinois stood on the bank and watched "The Stonewall" burn for nearly two hours and then the river became eerily dark and quiet.

Bodies were recovered from the river for days following "The Stonewall" sinking and they were buried south of Neely's Landing. It was such a tragic night on the river -- that although it was over 130 years ago, it seems like Almost Yesterday.

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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